Thursday, May 26, 2016

Five Garden Bugs You Need to get to Know

It is my pleasure to introduce you to Jean Godawa, a science educator and writer. Insects may be a tiny creatures, but that is not to say they don't have an important role to play in the garden. In her first post, Jean introduces us to five insects whose role in the garden is highly beneficial. Most importantly, Jean helps us to avoid misidentifying the less familiar larval form of these helpful insects as pests.

One of the hardest lessons for novice gardeners to learn is to embrace the presence of insects in the garden.  Of course we know that there are plant-destroying bugs that can wipe out some of our favourite flora, but there are other creatures that we should be welcoming into our gardens.  Acting as pollinators, predators and decomposers, beneficial insects are the master gardeners and we are just their apprentices.


The aptly named, faery-like lacewing (Chrysopidae) has an appetite for plant-sucking aphids. Lacewings are common throughout North America and lay their eggs at the end of stalks, usually on the underside of foliage.

Larval form of green lacewing      

In its immature form, as well as adult, predatory lacewings protect plants from herbivorous insects.

Seven spotted ladybug larvae  

Ladybugs, also known as lady beetles or ladybird beetles (Coccinellidae) are one of the most easily recognized garden bugs. Like lacewings they help keep aphid populations in check. Their larvae however, are not so easily recognized and are sometimes mistaken for unwanted pests.

The colouring of these ladybug larvae along with the bright colours of their adult forms, acts as a warning. Ladybugs have a foul taste that protects them from birds, bats and other insectivores.

Hover fly   

The same yellow and black colour provides an advantage to several other insects. It’s difficult to tell the difference between a hover fly (Syrphidae) and a wasp. Up close, you can see that hoverflies, like all flies (Diptera), only have one pair of wings. All other winged insects have two pairs. The colouring mimics that of a wasp which helps guard against predators. Despite this warning, hover flies do not sting.

Hover fly larva on aphid infested plant

Hover fly larvae are predators of tiny plant-eating insects. Adult females hover over plants looking for a place to lay eggs. Plants with aphids, whiteflies or other pests are optimal as they provide a food source for her larvae once they hatch. As adults, hoverflies derive their energy from nectar and, in a small way, act as pollinators.

Braconid Wasp Cocoons on Sphynx Moth Caterpillar

Most of us are familiar with, and probably afraid of, the yellow and black colouring of another insect. Wasps, like hornets and yellow jackets, scare us away from outdoor fun, especially in late summer when they seem to be everywhere. But our bias towards wasps shouldn’t taint the whole group. There are thousands of species of wasps, particularly in the ichneumonid and braconid families that are immensely helpful in the garden and most of them do not sting. Braconid wasps act as control agents for particularly destructive creatures like caterpillars. The adult wasps lays eggs directly onto caterpillars and when the larvae hatch, they eat the caterpillar from the inside out.

Ichneumonid wasps   

Adult ichneumonid and braconid wasps can, in a small way, help pollinate flowers when they visit them for nectar, but it is their parasitizing larvae that are most helpful against pests.

Bumble bee  

Of course we could not discuss black and yellow insects without mentioning bees (Apidae). With their larvae safely protected in nests underground, in tree cavities or other protected spaces, adult bees forage for pollen and nectar throughout the garden. Their feeding activity pollinates the flowers of many backyard trees and garden vegetables, ensuring we have fresh foods like sweet cherries, flavourful herbs, plump tomatoes and Halloween pumpkins.

The recent decline in bee populations, particularly in honeybees, threatens even the smallest vegetable garden. Not only does bee pollination provide food for our table, it ensures that seeds form for future harvests. Create a bee-friendly garden by including their favourite plants, building a bee house and providing a small water source.

Recognizing these master gardeners and being able to distinguish them from unwanted visitors is just one of the important lessons we, as their apprentice, must learn.

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Many thanks to Ken Sproule and David Cappaert for providing images for this post.

About Jean GodawaJean is a science teacher and writer. She has been writing science-related articles for print and online publications for more than ten years. Jean holds a degree in biology and environmental science with a focus on entomology from the University of Toronto. She had conducted field research in the tropical rainforests of Asia and South America.


  1. I've been preaching the importance of insects in my class for years! So good to see the same info here. Gotta love a bumble!

  2. thanks for all the good info, Jennifer. Just a little good news; I finally got my Ballerina and Marjorie Fair roses ordered! There's a Grower in Oregon that carries the hugest selection I've ever seen, and they ship to Canada! I am over the moon with happiness!

    1. So glad you got the roses you were looking for Petra!

  3. They are called "Rogue Valley" roses.

  4. This post is a keeper ! Thanks so much for the info. I'll be back. Patsi

  5. And here I always thought that a Hover Fly was some kind of mini bee!!!
    It is always such a pleasure to visit you here, Jennifer, and thank you for the information,

  6. Great informative post! It bothers me greatly that so many people routinely have their yards sprayed with pesticides as part of lawn maintenance. I was recently in a yard, and I did not see a single insect. Not one. The shrubs all smelled of chemicals.

  7. Some fascinating images here, I've never seen a hover fly larva before. Oh my, you do have to feel sorry for the poor caterpillars being eaten from the inside out!xxx

  8. Jennifer, great post! I didn't notice many honeybees in the apple trees last month; that's truly sad, normally the tree would be buzzing with activity. We don't use chemicals here in our garden. I hope the population will rebound soon.


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